There wasn't precisely nothing to take from the USMNT's 3-1 win over Puerto Rico on Sunday, but there weren't any signs that Jurgen Klinsmann has solved the organizational issues that have plagued his team for years. The 152nd-ranked team in the world repeatedly cracked open a strong US XI that featured eight starters from the EPL, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Championship and 2.Bundesliga, and a compact, low-block defense meant US chances created from possession were few and far between.
Yedlin was probably the most effective Yank on the day, repeatedly getting on the ball in space and then using his quickness and speed to beat a defender. The end product, however, was nowhere to be found:
I have no problem with using Yedlin as an overlapping, attacking threat. He's actually pretty great at it when the rest of the team is creating functional space.
That was nowhere to be found in this one. At some point against a static defense, there had to be the kind of creative play out of midfield that can crack said defense open. That only happened once for the Yanks, when a Michael Orozco ball from the back beat all three Puerto Rico lines, and Alejandro Bedoya was able to take a nifty touch-and-turn, then put it on a platter for Arriola.
On the flip side, the US struggled all day to bracket center forward Luis Betancur -- a college kid who scored 9 goals last year for Florida International University as a junior, and had their lone goal today on a pretty wonderful strike late in the first half:
That spot between the lines is where US opposition have set up camp over the last several years, and the inability to protect it against a team as weak as Puerto Rico does raise concerns about overall organization and understanding of roles. Manolo Sanchez also had a shot from that exact spot, while a nifty bit of hold-up play and backheel from Betancur found Joseph Marrero streaking into the box early in the second half.
Last-second emergency defense snuffed out that particular look, but teams that have more skill and athleticism than Puerto Rico (namely all three US opponents in the group stage of next month's Copa America Centenario) will hit those gaps faster and with more intent.
It was, of course, just a friendly, and so it's dangerous to read too much into anything. But the mistakes and lack of coordination between the US lines -- especially the central midfield and central defense -- are the exact same problems that have turned up in official competitions, and the point of friendlies is to figure out what's wrong and fix it before it kills you in matches that actually count.
Hasn't happened yet. Belgium roasted the US by playing between the lines; Panama and Honduras both generated 20-plus shots working primarily from there at last summer's Gold Cup; and Guatemala (a team not much better than Puerto Rico), two months back, were always able to get the space they needed to be dangerous.
The quality of the competition hasn't mattered, and neither have the stakes of the game nor the composition of the team. The US have a weak spot that needs to be reinforced over the next two weeks or Copa America will be a disappointment.
A few other notes:
6. Wood's goal came with a Puerto Rico player down on the field after a challenge. However, Puerto Rico had recovered the ball after said challenge and chose to play on, so Wood and the US were well within their rights to keep going. Any complaints about sportsmanship should be dismissed out of hand.
5. Tim Ream, who started at left back, scored his first professional goal since 2010:
Worth noting that the guy who I thought would be the starting left back at the Copa America -- Edgar Castillo -- went the full 90 minutes for Monterrey last night in their 4-2 win over Club America in the Liga MX semifinals.
4. Perry Kitchen got 45 minutes... at right midfield ¯\(ツ)/¯.
3. The US actually played a 3-5-2 for the final half hour or so. I have no idea if that's indicative of anything at all in terms of what Klinsmann is thinking.
2. Fafa Picault, who had a good year for St. Pauli in the 2. Bundesliga, made his US debut. It seems he's focused on playing for the US instead of Haiti. This appearance, however, does not cap-tie him.
1. Most of the Puerto Rico team were NPSL & PDL players, with a few others set to play with NASL expansion club Puerto Rico FC once they debut this autumn. The vast majority of the team were aged 20-through-25, and the most familiar name to MLS fans was probably midfielder Jeremy Hall, who spent the better part of a decade in the league with a variety of teams.